Q: I wonder if I am happy. I didn't even give it a serious thought until I saw the question. Now writing this, I'm close to tears. What is keeping me from happiness? I'm a married mother of four. I love my kids so very much, but cannot give them most of the things I know they need. Is that the problem? My marriage is so terrible and yet I know I love my husband. Could that be the problem? I wish I had finished college. Is that it? My friends love me and I them, I enjoy people's company, but I feel a sadness very deep inside and I know that nobody knows about it. In my mind I feel something great is in my future, not sure what it is, but I feel it. So what is holding me back?
— Rhonda, age 42
A: Rhonda, I think that what's holding you back may be a simple three-letter word: "but." If you count its sneaky double "and yet," that word appears four times in your short paragraph. It seems to attach itself to every positive thought you have. The problem with "but" is that it’s an obstacle. What would happen if you replaced all the "buts" in your thoughts with "ands"? Where "but" is an impediment, an invitation to stop acting on your own behalf, "and" is "what else am I going to do?" What would happen if you could shift your focus so that you can say, "I love my kids AND... I want to spend more time with them"; "I love my husband AND... we are going to work on reminding each other why we fell in love in the first place"; "I enjoy people's company AND... I am going to find a way to truly relax with my friends this holiday season?" You might be surprised at the results you can get from a simple shift in perspective.
This is not to imply that you can solve all your problems by ignoring them. But (that pesky word again) remember that change follows the direction of your focus. If you keep focusing on the negatives and asking what's wrong, you will get more of what’s wrong. Instead, difficult though it may be at times, try to concentrate and focus on what "right" looks like, because that is a far more effective way to solve problems. Focus on what’s right, and ask yourself how you can get more of it into your life.
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